The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) has stated that the declaration of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist group, the attacks by Federal Government agencies on its members constitute a prima facie violation of the African Charter. The position of the commission, based in Banjul, The Gambia, was contained in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari. Dated March 8 and signed by Soyata Maiga, ACHPR Chairperson, the letter was a response to the request from IPOB’s lawyers, Adulbert Legal Services, in favor of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the group, and its members all over the world.
In a letter signed by Mr. Aloy Ejimakor, for Adulbert Legal Services, the lawyers had requested ACHPR to invoke its Rule 98 (i) to grant provisional measures calling on the Nigerian government not to take any further actions inimical to Mr. Kanu and IPOB members pending ACHPR’s decision on the matter brought by IPOB.
Conveying the commission’s decision to President Buhari, the ACHPR Chairperson wrote: “I would like to draw Your Excellency's kind attention that at its 37th Ordinary Session held from 21 November to 5 December 2005 in Banjul, The Gambia, the Commission adopted Resolution 88 on the Protection of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Fight against Terrorism in Africa, which calls on African States to ensure that the measures taken to combat terrorism fully comply with their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other international human rights treaties, including the right to life, the prohibition of arbitrary arrests and detention, the right to a fair hearing, the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading penalties and treatment and the right to seek asylum.”
The ACHPR stated that if the allegations made by Mr. Kanu and IPOB through their lawyers are true, they would amount to a great cause for concern, as they would constitute gross violation of the provisions of the African Charter, particularly of Articles 2,3,4,5,6,7, 9,10,11,12,14,19, 20 as other regional and international human rights laws and standards.
“In view of the above, the Commission respectfully requests Your Excellency to intervene in the matter and ensure that the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria adopts Provisional Measures: Not to take any further action so as to avoid irreparable damage to the victim (Mr. Kanu), IPOB and its members, pending the decision of the commission on this communication,” wrote the commission’s Chairperson.
The ACHPR also requested the Federal Government to report back on the implementation of the provisional measures granted within 15 days of receipt of the letter, in accordance with Rule 98(4) of its Rules of Procedure.
“I would like to inform Your Excellency that as part of my responsibility, I am required to report to each Ordinary Session of the Commission on the actions that I have taken in my capacity as the Chairperson and as a member of the Commission. In that regard, the content of this letter as well as any response received from Your Excellency will be included in my report to the 62nd Ordinary Session of the Commission from 25 April to 9 May 2018, in Nouakchott, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania as well as, in my Activity Report to the African Union Policy Organs,” the Chairperson told President Buhari.
Lawyers to Mr. Kanu and IPOB, according to documents exclusively obtained by SaharaReporters, filed complaints at the ACHPR on 14 December 2017 through Adulbert Legal Services.
According to the statement of complaints, the legal firm stated that on 14 October 2015, the IPOB leader was arrested in Lagos, a few days after he arrived from the United Kingdom, and was charged with offences related to his broadcasts on the London-based radio Biafra and agitation for a referendum on the creation of a separate state of Biafra from Nigeria.
The lawyers averred that during Mr. Kanu’s pre-trial detention, he was granted bail many times by the Federal High Court, but the Federal Government disregarded the court orders and continued to detain him. After 18 months in detention, said the lawyers, Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court granted the IPOB leader bail. On his release on bail, he returned to his hometown of Afara-Ukwu in Umuahia, capital of Abia State, where he awaited the date for his next court appearance slated for October 17, 2017
The lawyers maintained that since his release from detention, no new charges have been filed against him and the court has not ordered his arrest. Yet, they stated, between 12 September and 15 September 2017, the Federal Government ordered soldiers of the Nigerian Army to surround his home in Afara-Ukwu, where they launched a series of attacks, using live ammunition.
The lawyers complained that Mr. Kanu, his parents, siblings, children, women, elderly people and many visitors to the home were trapped in the premises for the two days the attacks lasted. The attacks, they further averred, led to many deaths, injuries and extensive damage to his home. Also, they told the ACHPR that soldiers arrested many other people and took them to destinations unknown.
Those arrested, alleged the lawyers, have not been heard from by their families and friends, while the Nigerian Army has failed to disclose if Mr. Kanu himself was killed, wounded or taken into custody. The Army, they further told the ACHPR, published a statement, declaring IPOB a terrorist organization as a justification for the inappropriate use of the lethal force against Mr. Kanu and IPOB members as well as unlawfully subjecting Abia State and other states in the South-East to military occupation, through Operation Python Dance 11, since 10 September, 2017.
In their capacity as legal representatives to Mr. Kanu and IPOB, they wrote separate petitions to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and Senate President, Mr. Bukola Saraki, in protest against the military occupation and attacks on Mr. Kanu and IPOB members as well as the “unconstitutional and dangerous declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organization”.
They noted that the Senate President publicly declared that it is unconstitutional for the Nigerian Army to declare IPOB a terrorist organization.
The lawyers found it curious that on 21 September 2017, Justice Abdul Kararati of the Federal High Court made an ex parte order (without prior notice to IPOB), declaring IPOB a terrorist organization and ordering its proscription on account of an ex parte application (without notice) brought before the court on 20 September 2017 by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
This, contended the lawyers, was in contravention of a previous and subsisting final order declaring that IPOB is not a terrorist organization and that its members have not in any way breached Nigeria's Terrorism Prevention Act.
In addition, they claimed that the Attorney General of the Federation took formal and executory steps to gazette IPOB as a terrorist organization.
“These steps include declaring as criminals/ terrorists the millions of IPOB members worldwide, declaring as criminal/ terrorist the leader of IPOB, interdiction and confiscation of monies, bank accounts and property of IPOB, its members and its leader; the impending prosecution of millions of IPOB members in Nigeria, that IPOB is an unlawful society and the inability of IPOB members to participate in civic and political affairs, stigmatization of millions of IPOB members worldwide, wholesome defamation of IPOB members as terrorists worldwide and other negative impacts yet to be determined,” said the legal firm.
It maintained that IPOB is a non-violent group that operates in the open and in accordance with the law as well as being universally respected in many countries of the world where it is registered as a lawful organization. It equally maintained that Mr. Kanu is non-violent and was never convicted of any crime in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, where he has variously resided since attaining adulthood, prior to his trial in Nigeria. The law firm stated that some members of the international community, most prominently, the United States and the United Kingdom publicly rejected the court order designating IPOB a terrorist organization.
It told the ACHPR that the designation of IPOB as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government is discriminatory because there are other non-Igbo organizations in Nigeria, with some violent and others not, which have been agitating for members of their ethnic groups, and have not been declared as terrorist organizations.
“These organizations include the Arewa Youths (mainly Hausa/ Fulani ethnic stock), the Odua People's Congress (mainly of Yoruba ethnic stock), Miyeti Allah or Fulani herdsmen (mainly of Fulani ethnic stock), Niger Delta Avengers (mainly Ijaw ethnic stock),” said the lawyers.
The designation of IPOB as a terrorist organization, said the law firm, has emboldened the Nigerian Army and other security agencies to harass, intimidate, arrest or even kill or torture IPOB members and any member of the Igbo ethnic group suspected to be an IPOB member. The legal representatives submitted that Mr. Kanu if he is alive and well, is at the risk of killed on sight by the Nigerian Army or other security agencies, which still have checkpoints in Afara-Ukwu, and all the five states of the South-East.
They further stated that millions of IPOB members outside Nigeria run the risk of being harassed, intimidated, interdicted, arrested or even killed as terrorists if the return to Nigeria upon their return to Nigeria. According to the lawyers, money, bank accounts, other monetary instruments, chattels and real properties belonging to Mr. Kanu IPOB and its members are at the risk of being confiscated by the Federal Government.
Based on the allegedly wrong characterization of IPOB, the law firm told ACHPR that its members in or outside Nigeria need protection so that no further action should be carried out by the Nigerian Government to cause damage to them. It alleged that the Nigerian government has violated Articles 2, 3,4,5,6,7,9,10 11,12, 14, 19 and 20 of the African Charter.
It, therefore, requested the ACHPR to invoke its powers under Rule 98 of its Rules of Procedure and urge the Federal Government not to take any further step against IPOB until the commission decides the case. In another request for a provisional measure, the law firm urged ACHPR to adopt other urgent measures necessary to case to protect Mr. Kanu and IPOB.
The commission acknowledged receipt of the statement of complaints on 14 December 2017 and informed IPOB’s lawyers that it would table it for consideration.
Responding to the legal firm, ACHPR, in a letter dated 8 March and signed by Dr. Mary Maboreke, its Secretary, requested the law firm to present evidence and arguments on the admissibility of the communication within two months of this notification to enable it to proceed with a determination on the admissibility of the communication in accordance with Rule 105 (1) of the Rules of Procedure.
“The Secretariat would like to inform you that the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Commission) at its 23rd Extra-Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia, considered the above-referenced Communication, and decided to be seized of it.
Further, the Commission considered your request for Provisional Measures and decided to grant the request as shown by the Decision on Provisional Measures hereto attached,” stated the ACHPR.